Aleksandr Blok

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One of the half-dozen most significant poets in Russian literature, Alexander Blok was the leader of the Russian Symbolist movement. A mystic, Blok hailed the Russian Revolution as a mystical, rather…
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One of the half-dozen most significant poets in Russian literature, Alexander Blok was the leader of the Russian Symbolist movement. A mystic, Blok hailed the Russian Revolution as a mystical, rather than political, rebirth of his homeland. Blok's poetry was later set by several Soviet composers, most notably Georgy Sviridov and, above all, Dmitry Shostakovich in his Seven Romances, Op. 127. Born to a law professor and the daughter of the administrator of St. Petersburg University, Blok was raised in an aristocratic environment. He published verse for the first time in 1903, the year of his marriage to Lyubov Mendeleyeva, daughter of the famous chemist D.I. Mendeleyev. A heavy drinker and philanderer, Blok later claimed that he had only two loves in his life: his wife and "all the others." He demonstrated far greater fidelity to the feminine ideal in his early poetry, especially Songs of the Beautiful Lady (1904). In this collection, Blok identified divine wisdom -- using the Greek word "sophia" -- with the eternal "feminine world soul." Almost immediately, though, Blok lost his faith in the mystical, eternal feminine, and instead concentrated on the human suffering around him, searching for truth through hedonistic experience. Eastern Orthodox mystical elements began to fall away from his poetry, and he ridiculed his former beliefs in his 1906 lyrical drama "The Puppet Show," and transformed his idolized Beautiful Lady into a prostitute in the same year's play The Stranger. His poetry, too, became increasingly preoccupied with sordid, earthly matters, as in the collections Mask of Snow (1907) and

The City (1908). Blok eventually rejected the "bourgeois intellectualism" of his fellow Symbolists and threw in his lot with the Bolsheviks, but the Bolsheviks couldn't understand his work and rejected it. Blok's depression over this, and the desertion by the literary colleagues he had alienated, contributed to his premature death. He did manage to write significant works during his final decade. "The Scythians" (1918) proclaimed that the West could benefit from falling in line with Russia's new world order, or be swept away if it interfered with Russia's messianic role in world affairs. The unfinished autobiographical poem "Retribution" (1910 -- 1921), on the other hand, revealed his disappointment in the new regime. His last great work was the long, harsh, and slangy ballad The Twelve (1918), following a dozen Red Army soldiers through a looting and killing spree.